April 5, 2011
Walden In, Rodney Out in Anaheim
Fernando Rodney is out, and Jordan Walden is in. Angels' manager Mike Scioscia made the call this afternoon, announcing that Rodney would not close games for the Halos. Walden has struck out five hitters in his 2 1/3 innings pitched this year, while Rodney has given up a pair of runs and struck out two over his 1 1/3 frames.
Granted, we're talking about extremely small samples here, but, given the rush of Scioscia to replace Rodney just four games into the season, it's safe to say he was looking for an excuse to remove him from the gig. Rodney was a questionable closer to begin with—we're talking about a pitcher who has punched out just 7.1 per nine over the past two years, and against 4.8 walks per nine. He's not exactly contributing to your strikeout rates, WHIP, or, thanks to his 4.41 mark from 2007 through 2010, your ERA, either. If anything, it's a relief to have someone like him, whose lone value came from saves, removed from your lineup.
This is especially true if you can get a hand on Walden. He struck out 23 batters in 15 1/3 innings in the majors last year—he's punched out 14.3 per nine (with a K/BB of 3.5) in his 17 2/3 innings as a major leaguer. Expecting him to maintain those rates may be a bit much, though, as he whiffed 41 in 49 2/3 innings between Double- and Triple-A last year, and PECOTA thinks that's more realistic than the tiny big league sample we're working with.
There are reasons to be more optimistic than that projection, though. Kevin Goldstein rated Walden the #64 prospect in his Top 101 earlier this year, and rated him as the #3 prospect in the Angels' system and a four-star prospect in the Angels' Top 11.
His fastball can hit triple-digits now that he's coming out of the bullpen, and, as long as his elbow troubles don't return, he should remain on the mound now that he's made it this far. He's not, in Goldstein's words, a "finished product", a designation that has its low points (his slider comes in flat sometimes, he has a tendency to overthrow, and the aforementioned injury history), but it's also one that gives some hope that there are better things in his future—things like the innings he's put in thus far.
There is still the worry that Scott Downs becomes the closer when he returns from the disabled list, or that Rodney becomes Scioscia's guy out there again once he figures out the things that Scioscia feels like he needs to work on, but if Walden pitches well in his trial, then he should keep the role. He may not be a shutdown reliever just yet—he still walks a lot of hitters, and runs are bound to score off of him given the occasional fat slider and the free passes—but if you're looking for someone who can give you more than just the one category, like Rodney did, then Walden is your man—and since he's owned in just 3.1 percent of ESPN leagues and 18 percent of CBS leagues, you have a chance to grab him.